Choosing our words carefully

Just go with the flow

Just go with the flow

On the theory that words actually do have power, each year various armchair lexicographers issue lists of those they fear have the power to corrupt tender, young minds. Naturally, each year, the rest of the phrase-coining world happily ignores the peeve merchants in their midst.

Still, the good folks at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, fights on bravely to banish trite, nonsensical and overused terminology from the English language. Its 2014 Banished Word List includes: selfie, twerk, hashtag, twittersphere, mister mom, t-bone, and the suffixes “-ageddon” and “-pocalypse”.

As for “selfie”, Lawrence of Coventry, Connecticut, writes on the Banished Word List’s Facebook page, “People have taken pictures of themselves for almost as long as George Eastman’s company made film and cameras. Suddenly, with the advent of smartphones, snapping a ‘pic’ of one’s own image has acquired a vastly overused term that seems to pop up on almost every form of social media available to us. . .A self-snapped picture need not have a name all its own beyond ‘photograph’. It may only be a matter of time before photos of one’s self and a friend will become ‘dualies.’”

Please, Lawrence, don’t give the culture more ideas than it can handle.

Meanwhile, Lisa from New York quips, “Myselfie disparages the word because it’s too selfie-serving. But enough about me, how about yourselfie?”

Lisa also has a problem with “twerk”, that hip-thrust made famous by certain B-list celebrities with defiantly adolescent proclivities. She writes: “I twitch when I hear twerk, for to twerk proves one is a jerk – or is at least twitching like a jerk. Twerking has brought us to a new low in our lexicon.”

Perhaps not as low as has the incessant appending of end-of-the-world parts of speech to commonplace items and events.

“Come on down, we’re havin’ car-ageddon, wine-ageddon, budget-ageddon, a sale-ageddon, flower-ageddon, and so-on-and-so-forth-ageddon,” complains Michael of Haslett, Michigan. “None of these appear in the Book of Revelations.”

Indeed, adds Rob of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, “Every passing storm or event is tagged as ice-ageddon or snow-pocalypse. There’s a limited supply of. . .ageddons and. . .pocalypses; I believe it’s one, each. When running out of cashews becomes nut-ageddon, it’s time to re-evaluate your metaphors.”

It’s all well and it’s all good. Still, allow me to offer my own pet peeves which have not, to my knowledge, appeared on anyone else’s list thus far.

Is it my imagination, or is it getting a little crowded in here? According to a Wikipedia entry, “Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”

This “process”, we are reliably informed, is deployed to render boring tasks more tolerable (a “many-hands-make-light-work” type of thing) and to raise money for business start-ups, charities, arts initiatives and just about anything else the human mind can conjure on any given day.

Fair enough. But isn’t this what people do, and have done for thousands of years, anyway? What was building ancient Egypt’s pyramids, or the cathedral at Rouen, but prime examples of “crowdsourcing”? Were those projects’ workforces so collegial, so “traditional”, that they did not qualify as “crowds” to be “sourced”?

Do we really need a new word for what is essentially that most ancient of humanity’s unique tricks: creating culture?

Or is it all about the way we feel and talk about the culture we create? In other words, do we get that the “meta-joke” really is on us?

Again, according to the experts (this time the online urban dictionary), “meta” is a prefix, “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.”

These days, you can’t walk out the door without encountering some form of  meta-monster, but humour is especially vulnerable to attack: Knock knock. Who’s there? Really. Really who? Really can’t stand knock knock jokes.

If words do have power, let us hope, in this instance, it is not absolute.

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